Bloomberg: EU Urges Romania, Bulgaria to Strengthen Fight Against Graft
By Elizabeth Konstantinova and Andra Timu
Bulgaria and Romania need to do more to strengthen their legal systems and fight high-level corruption and organized crime, the European Union said in a report on the European Union’s poorest states.
Romania “has made progress in many areas” and “long-awaited” legislative changes have remained on track, though “concerns about judicial independence remain,” European Commission spokesman Mark Gray told reporters in Brussels today. Bulgaria’s judicial reform progress has not “been sufficient and remains fragile,” he said.
The two countries that joined the 28-nation bloc in 2007 are judged to be among the EU’s most corrupt along with Greece and Italy, according to Berlin-based research organization Transparency International. The Black Sea nations have had with repeated warnings to fight corruption harder to ensure a fair distribution of EU aid. Romania, the bigger of the two, stood to receive 32 billion euros ( billion) in EU aid through 2013. Bulgaria got less than 11 billion euros.
“For reform to succeed, it needs a consistent and coherent approach based on a broad consensus in Bulgarian society,” Gray said about Bulgaria, which was last the subject of a report 18 months ago. “The fact that this period included three different governments has not helped to build this consensus, though events have also illustrated a widespread public aspiration for reform.”
Bulgaria has been gripped by political turmoil since February, when anti-austerity protests that echoed unrest across Europe forced out Boyko Borissov’s administration.
Premier Plamen Oresharski’s minority cabinet took power after a May snap election. It survived two no-confidence votes and recurring protests against what demonstrators say is a corrupt political system.
In Bulgaria “repeated controversies such as appointments having to be aborted due to integrity issues, the escape from justice of convicted organized crime figures and a succession of revelations about political influence on the judicial system have affected public confidence,” the EU said in a statement. “There remain very few cases where crimes of corruption or organized crime have been brought to conclusion in court.”
Romania is scheduled to hold a presidential election at the end of this year and has been embroiled in a feud between President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta in the past two years over judiciary and taxes.
Ponta’s coalition, which now holds a two-thirds parliamentary majority, tried unsuccessfully to oust Basescu in 2012. The bickering between Ponta and Basescu was rekindled in late 2013 over changes to a criminal code and some fuel taxes.
“Concerns about judicial independence remain” in Romania and “there are many examples of resistance to integrity and anti-corruption measures,” Gray said.
“The rushed and intransparent amendment of the Criminal Code in December 2013 sparked widespread concern as a challenge to the regime for tackling corruption and promoting integrity.”
The judicial “reform process in Romania can be seen as sustainable and the positive developments deemed irreversible,” Gray said.
The commission will continue monitoring the two countries and will issue the next two reports in one year, he said.